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Deep within the midst of the Great Liangshan Mountains reside the Yi people, one of China’s ethnic minorities holding tight onto their traditional way of life in the face of a fast-developing society. Li Fan, a Xi’an based photographer, first came across the Yi people on a chance trip to the Great Liangshan Mountains over ten years ago. After bearing witness to their remote and self-sufficient lifestyle, the photographer felt it was his duty to capture them before their tradition and ethnic cultural heritage fades away forgotten. “As a photographer, if I don’t shoot, other people probably won’t be able to see these. Therefore, I feel obligated to document these disappearing or soon-to-disappear ethnic cultural heritages, so as to pass on the culture and preserve a valuable anthropological photographic file.”

Li Fan said that knowledge about local customs was essential to gain successful shots and  initial access to the community. “Immerse into their life,” advises the photographer, “shorten the psychological distance between them and yourself, make them lower or drop their guard, so they reveal their most natural side to you. Most of my photos were taken without interfering in their lives, capturing moments of their real life.”

Using Hasselblad analog cameras to achieve the intricate detail in his images, Li Fan’s intimate series reveals a fascinating insight into the lives of these mountain-dwelling people through candid moments attained through her unobtrusive presence. The photographs are not only a testament to a way of life far detached from society, but also demonstrate Li Fan’s exceptional flare for photography, each shot carefully composed and charged with a sense of power, mystery, and intrigue.

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All images © Li Fan / Sony World Photography Awards

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